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Boston-July 23-August 6, 2007


July 24th, 2007

Photo gallery 1: Explorations around Boston

View of Boston skyline from ferryboat.

Rocky shoreline of Boston Bay’s islands.

Tide pools on Boston Bay Island where I went wading one weekend.  Can you see the crab?

July 25th, 2007

Tour continued…

Paul Revere’s House; one of the sites I passed while walking Boston’s “Freedom Trail”

The first U.S. Municipal Building established after independence.

Beacon Hill – one of Boston most beautiful neighborhoods.

July 28th, 2007

Photo gallery 2: Fellows

Eve, my roommate, and I at an Indian Restaurant in Cambridge.

Jared, Eve and I at the first Fellows’ reunion (Day 369 for Jared and Day 20 for us).

The three Fellows after a trip to Coldstone ice cream on a 95-degree Boston day.

July 30th, 2007

Photo gallery 3: Fellowship “duties”

Noticing our anxiety over the burden of re-filling our Fellowship pot through fundraising, David took pity on us and decided to give luck a chance.

He bought four lottery tickets and gave one to Seisei,

one to Eve,

one to me. He kept one for himself.

Holding our breath we scratched away at the metallic paste covering our potential jackpot.  Seisei and Eve came out as winners!  However, all they won was $1 each so it looks like the fundraising work will have to continue.  It’s comforting to know, however, that luck is on our side.

July 31st, 2007

Fellowship duties continued…

In preparation for my nearing departure to Turkey (6 weeks!), I scoped out a Turkish Restaurant in Boston.  Walking in I was hit by the smell of “tavuk shish” (chicken shish kebab), “pastirma” (curried beef), feta, and olive oil.  The cooks were shouting to each other in Turkish behind a glass counter piled high with delicacies of vibrant colors, shapes and smells.   Overwhelmed by the choices, I decided to try a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar.  I then nervously mentally pieced together the sentences to order in Turkish.  Drumming up my courage I walked up to the man at the register who looked as if he was having a bad day.  I heard him yelling to the waiters, “This is wrong!  You are too slow hurry, hurry, Allah’im (My God) when will you learn to do it right!”

Eyeing me he flipped to English, “Yes, what do you want?” I swallowed hard, having expected a more gentle audience for my Turkish exposition.  But he would have to do. 

The minute the words came out of my mouth his scowl turned to a smile.  He paused long enough to ask, in Turkish, Where did you learn your Turkish?…Why did you learn it? It is an odd choice.  Not many people here chose to learn it…

Struggling with the words I explained that I had spent the last year in Cyprus and would be leaving for Turkey in the fall.  Ah, I understand. he said, Well, you are welcome anytime in my restaurant.  We Turks know hospitality better than most.

I wonder if I would have had the same reception if I had conveyed the same information in English. 

To eat I chose dolma, hummus, tahin, mmmmmm.

The walls were decorated with hand-woven clothes and the typical Ottoman pottery from the Turkish town of Kutahya. 

Before I left I couldn’t help but eye the sweets shelves.  Turkey is renowned for the variety and quality of its sweets – one more thing to anticipate in the coming months.  The sweets crammed into the case below are only a fraction of the amount common to street side stalls in Istanbul.

August 2nd, 2007

Lunch with Doug Stone, co-author of Difficult Conversations

As part of our Boston placement, we have been meeting with various luminaries in the field of Mediation and Conflict Management.  One of these individuals is Doug Stone, co-author of the book Difficult Conversations.  While Fischer and Patton’s best selling book “Getting To Yes,” advised negotiators/mediators to separate the people from the problem, Doug book takes this concept a step further and asks, what if the people are the problem?

During lunch with Doug, we brought up the question of whether it was actually possible to make the prescriptions in these two books habits or whether even the best of negotiators only believe “right conduct” in all interactions is an ideal rather than a reality.  Our question came from a concern over certain disputes we had observed among members in the field of conflict resolution.  The irony seemed too powerful that those making careers out of solving conflict would be unable to solve their own conflicts. 

Doug offered some very grounding advice to help grapple with this rather ironic observation.  He said, that even Tiger Woods has a golfing coach.  Tiger Woods is a better golfer than his coach, yet Tiger can still gain from what his coach has to offer. Thus even if career mediators and negotiators are not the best at practicing their trade in their own lives, they can still serve as incredibly effective teachers. 

Doug went on to explain that the core skills of the field are tricky to learn and incredibly difficult to practice.  If you observe career mediators failing to use what they preach in their own lives then it is usually for one of two reasons: either they do not believe in what they are teaching or the techniques are far more difficult than most make them out to be; even the best of us must still continually practice them.

Thinking about Doug’s comments, I realized how much energy it takes to actively engage skills I have learned in all areas of my life.   These skills are called on constantly from workplace role-plays to negotiating life-styles with my roommates.  My old habits of reacting to conflicts are so ingrained, however, that it takes an enormous amount of effort each time I want to consciously replace my natural tendencies with my learned skills.

My hope is that one day the skills will be so well practiced that they will come to replace the old habits.  In the meantime, however, my own personal struggles at living out what I am learning to preach have made me more sympathetic to the weak moments among even the best mediators.

August 3rd, 2007

Reciprocity norm

In my reading for last week, one article discussed the “reciprocity norm.”  This socially learned norm dictates that when someone does a favor for us, we feel bound to grant then subsequent favors that we would ordinarily not grant.  For example, if my neighbor brings in my trash cans one week, I will be more likely to agree to take care of his dog while he is on vacation than I would if he had not done this small favor for me previously.

On the positive side, this norm encourages cooperation, community interdependence, and punishes free riders.  On the negative side, however, this norm creates inefficient transactions because we end up agreeing to give, buy, sell or do things that we ordinary would not.

Since being reminded of the reciprocity norm, I have noticed its presence in all types of negotiations in my life.  For instance, while flying to one Insight training session, I sat next to a friendly but rather talkative woman.  Having not slept much the night before I was eager to use the plane ride to catch up on sleep.  Before dozing off I asked this woman to keep an eye on my things while I went to search for a blanket.  When I returned, rather than catching the hint that I was ready to sleep the woman took my “thank you” as an invitation to talk straight through the plane ride.  

The reciprocity norm was at play here because ordinarily I would have felt comfortable cutting the conversation short and explaining that I needed to catch up on some sleep.  However, because of the small favor I had already requested, I felt that I did not have the right to deny this woman her counter-request: an attentive but silent conversation partner.  In more formal negotiations this norm could play out as an early small concession by Person A allowing A to demand an even larger concession of Person B down the line.  B will feel more obliged to give the concession because she already has the sense of “indebtedness” towards Person A.

The reading suggested that we can overcome this “inefficiency” in negotiations by simply learning about the reciprocity norm and recognizing when it is influencing our judgments and when the other party is using it intentionally to their advantage.  In such cases, the author suggested that we should simply not reciprocate and not feel badly about breaking the norm.

More easily said than done!  Try telling the stranger in the store who let you go in front in line that you cannot spare change, or the neighbors who let you in when you forgot your keys that you do not mind their loud and late party nights.  In cases where reputation matters and where you continually deal with the same people, I do not think this norm can be so easily overcome.